Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Paragraph 51

And now, comprehend the meaning of this verse: "The whole earth shall on the Resurrection Day be but His handful, and in His right hand shall the heavens be folded together. Praise be to Him! and high be He uplifted above the partners they join with him!" (Qur'an 39:67) And now, be fair in thy judgment. Were this verse to have the meaning which men suppose it to have, of what profit, one may ask, could it be to man? Moreover, it is evident and manifest that no such hand as could be seen by human eye could accomplish such deeds, or could possibly be ascribed to the exalted Essence of the one true God. Nay, to acknowledge such a thing is naught but sheer blasphemy, an utter perversion of the truth. And should it be supposed that by this verse are meant the Manifestations of God, Who will be called upon, on the Day of Judgment, to perform such deeds, this too seemeth far from the truth, and is surely of no profit. On the contrary, by the term "earth" is meant the earth of understanding and knowledge, and by "heavens" the heavens of divine Revelation. Reflect thou, how, in one hand, He hath, by His mighty grasp, turned the earth of knowledge and understanding, previously unfolded, into a mere handful, and, on the other, spread out a new and highly exalted earth in the hearts of men, thus causing the freshest and loveliest blossoms, and the mightiest and loftiest trees to spring forth from the illumined bosom of man.

Well, here we are, the beginning of a new section. Not really, but that was sure fun to write. It actually is still in the same section of "the powers of the earth shall be shaken". He is drawing our attention to yet another quote that explores this particular clause.

Here, He is using a quote that is often taken quite literally, and is basically showing the folly of it. Uhm, taking it literally, that is. Instead, He talks about purposefulness. He points out that were it to be literal, what would be the point? But if we look at it as a metaphor, then worlds of meanings become apparent and we can see how useful it can become.

This becomes yet another tool in our teaching box. Remember, Shoghi Effendi said that if we wanted to become effective teachers of the Cause, we should become thoroughly acquainted with the methods and arguments used by Baha'u'llah in this book.

When we are teaching someone, or even learning within our own heart, we can often get distracted by things that really serve no purpose. Sometimes it can be something as present as which political party to support, or as abstract as whether or not we believe in a particular miracle. Baha'u'llah is reminding us that we need to take a broader and more practical approach.

For example, sometimes we can get involved in a debate about whether or not we support a political issue of the day, such as abortion or gay marriage or whether or not to build a particular hydro dam, forgetting all the while to look at the underlying spiritual issues of the matter. Other times someone can try to corner us as to whether or not we accept a particular teaching of their religion, such as the virgin birth or some other miracle. In the former examples, the trick is to keep our focus on the spiritual issues, and in the latter, the question is what difference it would make in our life. Baha'u'llah is reminding us of this second point.

Baha'u'llah, later in this book, tells us that the purpose of the Manifestations of God is to change the hearts of people and effect a change in their behaviour, too. Their purpose is to shake the earth of men's hearts, so to speak. If we get involved in debates on these side issues, it is with our head, and not with our heart. The true seeker is not concerned with our interpretation of the miracles, but with the teachings of the Faith. What does Baha'u'llah teach us about gender equality? How does He help us learn how to organize a world community? What does He teach us about truthfulness, compassion, and striving for excellence? These are the things that impact our daily life and our interactions with others. The very simple question, "Of what profit would it be to man" becomes pivotal in helping us avoid these distractions.

Of course, it is always important to remain courteous and respectful when engaging in any religious discussion. The seeker is asking a question because it is important to them. After all, when Mulla Husayn first met the Bab, he had a list of requirements that the Bab "had to meet", such as "As to His age, He is more than twenty and less than thirty. He is endowed with innate knowledge. He is of medium height, abstains from smoking, and is free from bodily deficiency." This was very important to him in recognizing the Bab. But for us today, it is almost irrelevant. It is far more important to us that He prepared the way for Baha'u'llah, and instituted a whole whack of teachings that transformed the entire community. So while these things may not impact our life today, and may not be the most important things for us, they do serve their purpose.

Getting back to the point, after our own distraction here, this is a very useful tool when teaching. And the ideas we get with this perspective, that of practical purpose and looking at the spiritual issues at the heart of things, are important. Whether our insights are small or large, a tiny flower or a mighty tree, they are all grown out of the newly transformed earth of our heart. As Baha'u'llah says much later in this book, "the object of every Revelation (is) to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions".

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